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September 26, 2012

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This is interesting to read as an American frum-from-birth frummie. I don't have any comments or such, because it is such a different way of looking at things from where you're coming from. But thank you for your perspective. I have very little experience outside of Orthodox, which isn't so much a monolithic group as many, many, many groups, who do as many "no, you're not a [good enough] Jew" to other frummies as they do to non-frummies. So it's not just you. ;) As the joke goes, every Jew other than me is a fanatic or a heretic. ;)

Thanks for your comment, L! Any insight you can offer into how the situation looks from the US frum perspective would be great.

The non-Orthodox congregations I've seen have been very lackadaisical about every Jew other than me is a fanatic or a heretic. People make individual choices about how observant they want to be, and about what, so that (for instance) the clothing at shul today was extremely variable: no one in this particular congregation was wearing a kittel (though I've seen it done in Jewish Renewal groups), but whether men (or women!) wore tallit and even a head-covering depended entirely on their personal preference.

In your experience, is Beinart correct when he says that the "social justice" mitzvot (e.g. Exodus 22:21 "You shall not mistreat a stranger, nor shall you oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.") are not emphasized in Orthodox communities? This was very surprising to me, because they are emphasized and discussed at *great* length in all the non-Orthodox services I've attended.

Thank you so much for writing so clearly and giving us so many places to go next. I understand much better now the feelings I've been having about Israel, specifically my own selfish interest in Israel as a refuge at need for my family.

I will want to support and protect my extended family in Israel whether or not Israel is my personal haven and whether or not I agree with its political direction. But I've gone from Conservative Judaism toward Reconstructionist and Egalitarian Judaism, and I don't feel as though any of those branches of Judaism are welcome in the Land.

Very interesting perspective. I come to this from yet another one: I was raised Reform/Conservative and became Orthodox as an adult.

Social justice? I cannot say that I've heard that term, but certainly the concept of not oppressing strangers is discussed, and being charitable, along with many of the other commandments. I think we understand the concept a bit differently, though - and I don't know that I want to go far down that path, as it could divert the discussion.

Yes, I definitely see my non-Frum relatives much less interested in Israel than is my immediate family. It's hard for me to say, though, that is largely about the "who-is-a-Jew" question, as much as it is that Judaism is peripheral to their lives.

But there are a couple of issues on which I would disagree with you, DS. First, is your explanation of the prophets. Looking over what was collected of their writings, it is pretty clear that the base message is: keep the Torah, you're not keeping the Torah, bad things will happen if you don't - but G-d will wait patiently for you to return. That's the basic comforting message of Zechariah - that we always have a chance to turn around and get it right. So it's not - comfort us until we're comfortable and then "afflict us" - it's largely about keeping the Torah, and keeping it properly. And yes, properly includes helping others and not just thinking that rituals suffice.

Also, it is far from clear to me that non-Orthodox Judaism is doing well. There may well be "an exuberant renaissance of spirituality, observance, and liturgical practice" among those who are still committed, but the numbers appear to be diminishing. Maybe it's different in your synagogue, but I see a lot of small families and intermarried families in which the children don't strongly self-identify as Jews. If you don't have enough children committed to your values, how much impact can you have on future generations?

As a member of a large Reform congregation in the Maryland DC suburbs, I sometimes get the sense that the Reform movement is strongly Zionist for vicarious reasons, as if to make up for the feeling that Reform Judaism is insufficiently Jewish.

Wandering perhaps, but lost, following a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.

but not lost?

A very nice and insightful piece, Doctor.

A prophet's job is to comfort the afflicted?

That is contrary to much of my understanding, which is that a prophet's function is to deliver words of righteousness to the people. These people may be afflicted, but if they are afflicted with evil, those words will bring shame and possibly anger rather than comfort.

Which in some long-term sense might be comforting the afflicted, but I don't get that sense frim your words.

I was all set to do historical analogies, backed up ones even, with no Godwin triggers, but this piece is more about the relationship between Zionism and Judaism and not directly about the I/P conflict, so I won't. Instead, here are links to parts 1 and 2 of Jerry Haber's essay on Zionism, Orthodoxy, Palestinian rights, etc.--

Part 1


I'm not sure what happens if I go away for the second link, so I'll post this now.

"A very nice and insightful piece, Doctor."

Yes. It is. Honest, fair and balanced too within its scope.

Fuzzy Face:

it's largely about keeping the Torah, and keeping it properly. And yes, properly includes helping others and not just thinking that rituals suffice.

Since it's fresh in our minds, let's take the Yom Kippur haftarah, as an example: Isaiah 57:14–58:14. Isaiah doesn't mention keeping the Torah (much less halacha) as a *whole*, he explicitly elevates what I've called the "social justice mitzvot" above even fasting:

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
For the prophets, social justice isn't just *part* of Torah, all of which should be properly kept. Social justice is the *main part*, the crucial element that the rest supports.

All the congregations I've visited for High Holidays have had food drives on Yom Kippur. The food isn't collected just for poor families in the congregation or even just for poor Jewish families, either: it goes to the county food bank (or equivalent large organization). The rabbis explicitly connect this custom to the haftarah, "to share your food with the hungry".

Do Orthodox congregations do Yom Kippur food drives? I haven't been able to find any via Google, but that's not particularly good evidence.

From time to time the prophets certainly declaim against idol-worship, sexual immorality, and violating the Sabbath. But the offenses they keep coming back to, again and again, are against social justice:

Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine
and champions at mixing drinks,
who acquit the guilty for a bribe,
but deny justice to the innocent.
[Isaiah 5:22-23]

What do you see as the "take-away" from yesterday's haftarah, if not that "social justice is more important even than observing the Holy Days"?

hairshirtthehedonist:

Yes, I had only just noticed that. arrgh. The curse of the last-minute edit strikes again ... and now I have to do it so it *sticks*, this time. *stabstab*

Donald Johnson,

Thanks for the links to Haber. Very interesting essay.

Unfortunately, (or perhaps predictably) the orthodox too often seem to be an obstacle to just treatment of the Palestinians. Nice to read Haber and see a different view.

I cannot say that I've seen any Orthodox congregations with food drives on Yom Kippur. But then, I don't recall any non-Orthodox congregations collecting Matanas L'Evyonim for Purim or Maos Chittim for Pesach. Those are times when the tradition has been to help the poor - and those traditions go back thousands of years.

Since the main theme of the day is repentance, that is the main theme of the morning haftarah. It speaks of the proper way to repent. We are commanded to fast, but that does not mean that fasting excuses bad behavior. What's the point of confessing that you're sinning if you're just going to go right back and do it again? So yes, Isaiah in this passage insists that we must feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and so on. That doesn't say that those things are "more important" than the Holy Days.

The afternoon haftarah, from the book of Jonah, is also about repentance. If you're going to learn that feeding the hungry is the key, based on the morning haftarah, then logically you should see it just as critical that we put on sackcloth and ashes, based on the afternoon haftarah. But nobody argues that, for a very good reason: both were chosen from already written passages when the sages defined the prayer service after the return from Babylon. Neither was written to be the essence of Yom Kippur.

On the other hand, the prayer service itself was created explicitly for Yom Kippur, so surely it's a better source of understanding the point of the day. I have an old Reform prayerbook that my mother used when I was very young; I don't know how close it is to the service you are used to, and one thing I note is how much of the traditional service is missing. But right there at the beginning of the confession section is the key: "we have turned aside from Your commandments and your beneficent ordinances and it has not availed us" (or in Hebrew, the passage beginning סרנו ממצותיך וממשפטיך). The full confession lists many kinds of offenses for which we are asking pardon; only a few of them could really be interpreted as being about "social justice." That's just a part of our obligations.

A prophet's job is to comfort the afflicted?

That is contrary to much of my understanding, which is that a prophet's function is to deliver words of righteousness to the people. These people may be afflicted, but if they are afflicted with evil, those words will bring shame and possibly anger rather than comfort.

Which in some long-term sense might be comforting the afflicted, but I don't get that sense frim your words.

Posted by: Slartibartfast | September 27, 2012 at 01:21 PM

I had the same understanding.

A prophet is almost/practically God's mouthpiece. And the label is not to be taken lightly.

Is this just a Christian interpretation?

Many of the tensions you point out seem to be the inevitable product of religion becoming bound and un-bound to ethnic identity and then once national identity is woven into the mix, “let the games begin!”

With so many identities, “authenticity” ends up meaning so many things. I don’t know if you watched the documentary “Defamation”, but this blurring of religious, ethnic and national identities gets played out in the film. A Russian Orthodox Jew found American secular Jews to be busy bodies accused of “shallow guilt” for not being religious, thus finding anti-Semitism everywhere. An older Zionist grandmother seemed to engage in some of the stereotypies anti-Semites’ use, when criticizing Jews who refuse to relocate to Israel. An Israeli Jew (the director) seemed to think that Holocaust tours did more harm than good. The list goes on…I don’t know what to make of it, since I am not Jewish. But coming from the position of a person of color who shares the religion of the European colonizer, I/we became very adept at parsing out what was Christian (ie White), or Christian (Protestant) or Christian (American identity) from Christian (Republican) or even Christian (European), you know what I mean?

"Many of the tensions you point out seem to be the inevitable product of religion becoming bound and un-bound to ethnic identity and then once national identity is woven into the mix, “let the games begin!”"

Almost precisely, but more like, "let the self destructive neurosis begin".

As a second generation American of Armenian decent I know a little bit of these things.....the religion, the clannishness, the obsession with the horrors of the past. I grew up with genocide survivors living in my house as extended family.

It's all BS.

Each individual, regardless of ethno/religio heritage - Jew, Armenian, American Indian, Black - has to either let all of that go and embrace their individuality and freedom or return to the "old country" (or res.) and live out some bygone (losing) myth at their own risk. Or get stuck in between and hate life in a peculiar grey way.

Those who know that Jerusalem (Yerevan, Center of the Earth, etc) are spiritual places in the heart are happy. Those that make the mistake of turning the symbol into concrete are doomed to suffer.

Each individual, regardless of ethno/religio heritage - Jew, Armenian, American Indian, Black - has to either let all of that go and embrace their individuality and freedom or return to the "old country" (or res.) and live out some bygone (losing) myth at their own risk. Or get stuck in between and hate life in a peculiar grey way.

I don’t agree with all that….historical memory is no joke, and should be placed within some sort of context. I believe “individuality”, at least how it is structured in our consumer society, is a bit over rated. But how we subjectively engage in our collective identities, is how we construct our individuality.

A people regain their land, but lose their soul?

Good post, Doc.

"...historical memory is no joke..."

It's a serious as you make it out to be. That choice is yours.

"I believe “individuality”, at least how it is structured in our consumer society..."

Screw consumer society. That's the biggest sham on the planet. I'm talking about who YOU really are. The torah, The book of mormon, the new testament....that's all consumer society.

Hey dude, it's not that big a planet and she's getting smaller every day. You really think we'll all make it with all these little clans running around all over her, each "remembering" that they are the "chosen people" and identifying with that and each "remembering" all those other things that make us different - even historically in conflict with - with everyone else? Remembering all those justifications for building walls, for war, for closing our minds to influences around us becuase they don't fit our "history" as a this or that? For remembering to punish ourselves for not paying obligation to systems that were developed thousands of years ago in different lands?

This is a good stuff?

"But how we subjectively engage in our collective identities, is how we construct our individuality."

No. Not a healthy person. Love is love. If the love is pure a Jew experiences it the same as an Armenian or a Pacific Islander.

That special sense of you that you feel deep down inside once in a while (a least, I hope), that is where the identity needs to be.

If you were a Jew and played an instrument, would you only play Jewish music? Or would branch out and embrace the full spectrum of styles on this planet?

" I'm talking about who YOU really are."

Son, you are not born into a vacuum. The woman who pushed you out of her, came from somewhere and got to that place somehow. It wasn't Martin Luther's mother, Bruce Lee's mother, Gandhi's mother, George Bush's mother, nor my mother.

It was YOUR mother, and she didn't pop out of thin air. And that barely begins to build the foundation for who YOU really are. YOU didn't create the culture and society YOU were born into, it created YOU.

Blackhawk, you are making an awful lot of assumptions that you don't recognize. Values come from culture - they don't magically appear from the aether. Most of the values of Western society originate in either Judaism or ancient Greek philosophy, melded and transmitted primarily by Christianity. That secular Westerners largely embrace those same values is due to their immersion in a culture founded on them.

But take away the sources, which you deride as "little clans" and it becomes increasingly difficult to transmit those values to the next generation.

There are plenty of different sets of values - it's just that Western ones have been the source of the greatest elevation of the poor from poverty and minorities and women from degradation. No other culture comes close. And that's what you want to undo...?

I'm surprised that several people don't see the prophets as (occasionally) comforting. Some of their comfort is of the "God will slaughter your enemies!" sort, e.g. Isaiah 13. Sometimes it's a prediction of a hopeful future, like Isaiah 49 or Jeremiah 30.

Even when Jeremiah or Hosea is really on a tear, he always offers the comfort that none of Israel's suffering is meaningless: it's all part of a plan, and there's always the prospect that in time, with true repentance, she'll return to G-d's favor.

Oh to be sure, the prophets do also comfort. In fact, the seven haftaros between Tesha B'Av and Rosh Hashana are known as the "haftaros of consolation" starting with Isaiah 40 - "Comfort, comfort my people."

"It was YOUR mother, and she didn't pop out of thin air..."

My mother thinks for me? I can't go out in the world and explore and come to my own conclusions? If I had my mother's voice echoing around in my head, I think I'd feel like a child; certainly less than a self-actualized man. As it turns out she died when I was young. All I remember, when I think about her at all, is her love. No thou shalts/shall nots. Well this is a thread about Jewish culture. I understand from stereotypes that there is a lot of mommy hang-up angst amongst Jews. There's something cultural worth passing along to the next generation.

"Blackhawk, you are making an awful lot of assumptions that you don't recognize."

Please don't tell me what I recognize or don't. You don't know me and have no idea where I've been or what I'v thought about.


Fuzzy Face and someotherdude, if you want to chain yourself to that kind of thinking then you are perpetuating the cycle and you have chosen to live your life in chains that someone (your mother? - god, how sad) put you in. And then you can whine about it and spend your life introspectively shrinking your own head.

"Values come from culture - they don't magically appear from the aether."

Huh...I thought yaweh gave them to Moses up on the mountain top, which is it? God or Moses' culture?

Seriously though, I think you guys can't see the forest for the trees.

"But take away the sources, which you deride as "little clans" and it becomes increasingly difficult to transmit those values to the next generation."

What values? We are the chosen ones and all the rest are cattle? You do recognize that that is the kind of "values" that have caused massive bloodshed and hardship throughout history and that will probably get all of those future generations you worry about slaughtered in some apocalyptic war.

Your arguments, especially this, " Most of the values of Western society originate in either Judaism..... There are plenty of different sets of values - it's just that Western ones have been the source of the greatest elevation ...." sounds suspiciously like an excuse for manifest destiny and other master race BS. Got to keep the culture pure. Got to keep the walls up. Got to keep the guns loaded. Can't mingle with those lower races and their decadence. Right?

If this was a thread about any other religion, say fundementalist christians, your sort of commenting would bring a hail of jokes and insults.

You know, blackhawk, someotherdude is from a protestant (evangelical) background, so trying to ding him with the Moses reference is kinda stupid. And in fact, because FuzzyFace and sod are from very different traditions, your lumping them together suggests that you are misunderstanding.

.

Blackhawk: "What values? We are the chosen ones and all the rest are cattle? "

Well, this would indeed be evidence of what you don't recognize; further, it would demonstrate that you know very little about Judaism and Christianity, and that, given you are willing to attribute such an attitude toward them, that you're something of a closed-minded bigot. I don't need to know you other than through your words to conclude that.

What I mean by "values" are things like:

- you're not allowed to kill other people except under very specific circumstances, such as self-defense (including wars of self-defense). That's largely unique to the West. In most other cultures, you're allowed to kill to avenge insults, real or perceived.

- separation of religion and state - in many cultures, there is a very tight overlap.

- self-criticism - Western culture tolerates and even invites questioning of its actions and ideas to an extent very rare in other cultures

- guilt - in a guilt-based system such as ours, if you do something wrong, you are in the wrong, even if nobody else knows. In an honor-shame culture, what really matters is whether others believe that you have done something wrong.

- an insistence on the same types of justice for all, as opposed to one set for insiders and another for outsiders

That hardly means that Westerners are perfect. Having a value system doesn't mean that everyone follows it all the time. But in most other cultures - unless they've learned these from the West - these are not even things that they necessarily value

It's not just natural resources that led Western civilization to be dominant and freer that most others. It is the value system.

I'm surprised that several people don't see the prophets as (occasionally) comforting.

That wasn't my point of disagreement. My point of disagreement was that you characterized, or appeared to characterize, comforting the afflicted as the job of a prophet. In other words: one of a prophet's primary functions. I think this point of view is not supported by any reasonable reading of the Law and the Prophets.

This is not to say that prophets are forbidden to comfort the afflicted, or that prophets comforting the afflicted is some ridiculous notion that never, ever happened. It's to say that comforting the afflicted is no more the job of prophets than propulsion engineering is the job of a neurosurgeon. It's not forbidden, but neither is it their prime directive.

In addition, I object to your characterization of social justice as a prime admonition of the Torah. I might have misunderstood you, but although helping the poor and afflicted is mentioned (more frequently by Jesus, I would say, but that's a matter of impression that I am not going to evidence right now) in the Old Testament (which has some substantial but incomplete overlap, in my understanding with Jewish sacred writings), it's not the sole thrust of those writings. Certainly God was not concerned enough with the afflicted in Sodom and Gomorrah to throw them a line, if they failed to repent.

IMO, of course. Much of the Old Testament is a listing of instructions to obey God, as well as what happens to those who don't, and what rewards might be available to those who are particularly close to God. Love each other is certainly in the mix, but not to the exclusion of everything else.

Oversimplification, probably. But I think a more accurate one than yours.

Now, to the matter of American vs. Israeli Jews. In Israel there are ethnic Jews and observant Jews. There is a substantial difference between American non-Orthodox Jews and Israeli religious Jews, and glossing over that as if it were nothing, which is what it appears you are doing (in effect, just shrugging off differences in opinion between the two), is I think a mistake. In Israel, as far as I have been able to observe, there is no grey area; either you are a strictly observant Jew, or you are nonreligious. Oddly, although strictly observant Jews are in the minority, kosher rules and mezusahs are practically omnipresent as far as I was able to observe.

I don't know anything at all about Reformed Jews, but I would imagine that they have split the difference between Orthodox Judaism and Christianity by giving themselves a break from strict adherence to the Law (as the covenant made possible by Jesus permitted Christians) without acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah. I might be wrong in this supposition. It's not made with any intent to harm or dismiss any Reformed Jews, just making an assessment from my half-assed understanding.

It would be interesting to see how much orthodox American Jews tend to support Israeli policies, I think.

Back to prophets, though: if anyone thinks that the primary job of a prophet is NOT so act as a conduit between God and the rest of humanity, I'd like to hear why they think that.

"In Israel, as far as I have been able to observe, there is no grey area; either you are a strictly observant Jew, or you are nonreligious."

Actually, not the case. There are a fairly wide range of levels of observance. The main difference is that very few Israelis identify with the American Reform (not Reformed!), Reconstructionist or Conservative movements. For those non-observant Israelis, the synagogue that they don't go to is almost always Orthodox (of course whether it is Haredi or Dati Leumi, etc...)

Reform Judaism does not believe that the Torah was written by G-d. The movement accepts the critical theory of Biblical authorship: that the Bible was written by separate sources and redacted together. Reform Jews do not believe in observance of commandments as such, but they retain much of the values and ethics of Judaism, along with some of the practices and the culture. The original, basic tenets of American Reform Judaism were set down in the Pittsburgh Platform. Many non-observant, nominal, and/or agnostic Jews will identify themselves as Reform when pressed to specify simply because Reform is the most liberal movement, but that is not really a fair reflection on the movement as a whole. There are plenty of Reform Jews who are religious in a Reform way. The NJPS found that 35% of American Jews identify themselves as Reform, including 39% of those who belong to a synagogue. There are approximately 900 Reform synagogues in the United States and Canada. - from the Judaism 101 website.

"It would be interesting to see how much orthodox American Jews tend to support Israeli policies, I think." There is a difference between supporting Israel and supporting Israeli policies. Among Orthodox Jews, support for Israel is very high. Many Orthodox high school graduates spend a year or two in Israel studying before attending college. I have a son there now, and his older brother did the same before him. As for support for policies, that changes with the policies, as you might expect.

Most of the values of Western society originate in either Judaism or ancient Greek philosophy, melded and transmitted primarily by Christianity.

Fuzzy, I'm not so sure. One of the critical values of Western society is that you should have some say over how you run your life. And that arises from the democracy of the whole village that characterized the Saxon villagers in England a millenium ago. (See also Kipling's Norman and Saxon)

It is, I sometimes suspect, why it can be very hard to establish a resilient democracy is some other cultures. If your culture has always valued someone else being in charge, and the masses simply following, it is easy to slip back into that mode when a glorious leader arises. (Heaven knows, even in the West we repeatedly see glimmers of that.)

I think you misunderstand. It's not that "nonreligious" Jews never do any of those things, it's that the Jews that are considered "religious" always do those things.

In my understanding. Which is based on a relatively small number of conversations, and so may be very, very wrong. Based on your link, the number of Jews who always observe religious dictates (not that that is possible, even, but Sabbath is kind of a threshold thing, in my thinking) is around 40%. I was thinking more like 30%, but 40% is still a minority.

But it may very well be that there's a continuum more than a step. The nonreligious people I talked to viewed it as an either-or thing, even though some of them observed various Jewish holidays. Just as we in America observe Thanksgiving, I'd imagine.

I expect Hartmut to weigh in here, but that having a say in your life is one of the key points that Greeks liked to distinguish themselves from the East with.

This is not to say those Saxon (and those Norse values, come to think of it) haven't been a strain in our society, and the history we have is basically the ones the Greeks wrote, so the fact that they saw themselves as standing up to Persian values (and when Alexander had the chance to replicate those values, he did it with alacrity, so it is not unexpected to invoke those values as values of Western Civ, but still, they do hold the patent by virtue of prior art...

...that you're something of a closed-minded bigot. I don't need to know you other than through your words to conclude that.

To wit:

I understand from stereotypes that there is a lot of mommy hang-up angst amongst Jews. There's something cultural worth passing along to the next generation.

...from the pure maverick who figured it all out himself, free from the chains of history and culture.

Fuzzy, I'm not so sure. One of the critical values of Western society is that you should have some say over how you run your life. And that arises from the democracy of the whole village that characterized the Saxon villagers in England a millenium ago.

As lj points out, Greeks actually seem to have invented democracy - and Jewish tradition has always seen a division of powers: kingship, priesthood, and law interpretation are three separate authorities.

the pure maverick who figured it all out himself, free from the chains of history and culture.

Wow. You invented English and mathematics and ethics all by yourself? You never spoke with another human being all your life and yet you managed to conclude basically the same things that Western culture has taught for millennia? OK, call me impressed.

The Greeks had democracy. For the elite. Whereas the Saxons (Norse, etc.) had it at the level of the common man.

There is, to my mind anyway, a difference between saying that the top 1% (or 5% or whatever) of society get a say in how things are run, and saying that everybody in the group does. A difference in degree amounting to a difference in kind. Yes, the Greeks (at least the Athenians; I seem to recall that Sparta had a different approach) had a less autocratic system than the Persians or the Egyptians. But I would say that they were still closer to those societies than to the Saxons.

Fuzzy Face,
I’m with Mahatma Gandhi, when it comes to understanding what Western civilization means:

“(When asked what he thought of Western civilization): “I think it would be a good idea.”

But my understanding of that quote is tied to the way I was reared within “Western civilization,” my racial/ethnic/class/religious/citizenship position within the USA formed why I agree with Gandhi.

As, I am sure, you interpret Western civilization in a very different way because of your racial/ethnic/class/religious/citizenship position within the USA.

----

I think Israel’s policies, concerning who is a Jew, are tied to the socio-political events on the ground. ">http://www.bintjbeil.com/E/occupation/arab_jew.html"> Arab Jews seem to have a different relationship with Zionism and Europe, than say some secular Russian Jews or other secular Russian Jews.

"I understand from stereotypes that there is a lot of mommy hang-up angst amongst Jews. There's something cultural worth passing along to the next generation."

Just to clarify, I didn't say *I* believe the stereotype. I was joking. I was thinking about the long list of Jewish commedians who write entire routines around these self-depreciating memes. Given the role of the jester in society, I did figure there probably is something to it.

"Wow. You invented English and mathematics and ethics all by yourself? You never spoke with another human being all your life and yet you managed to conclude basically the same things that Western culture has taught for millennia? OK, call me impressed."

You have totally missed my point. Of course I not only grew up in western culture, but I studied it (by free will and otherwise) k-12 and at university as well. However, I also, voluntarily, studied eastern and middle eastern culture, by choice. I have lived with tribal people (including native Americans) for periods of time in my life.

At this point my perspectives on everything from cuisine to spirituality are a blend of all that I have experienced. For example, though I was raised in an orthodox christian church, when I die my will contains strict instructions to follow Tibetan traditions........and no, I'm not saying that I am some kind of maverick hero. I am merely saying that the one of the wonderful aspects of being alive at this time is that there is such opportunity to explore the richness of cultural diversity and to make personal choices concering which and what resonnates with YOU concerning spiritual truth.

I offer this as a contrast to the idea that one is born, say a Jew, and therefore one must always be "a Jew" and then go about burdened with all of the ramifications of that quandry of meaning in a rapidly changing and increasingly interwoven human community. That situation seems to me to be antithetical to freedom and happiness (which gets me back to Woody Allen's routines and parodies).

If I had my mother's voice echoing around in my head, I think I'd feel like a child; certainly less than a self-actualized man. As it turns out she died when I was young. All I remember, when I think about her at all, is her love.

And then,

I understand from stereotypes that there is a lot of mommy hang-up angst amongst Jews. There's something cultural worth passing along to the next generation.

Mommy hang-ups, indeed!

Anyway, my point is after you were pushed from her womb, a whole community of folks steps in to clean you up, and wiping your filthy self, for God knows how many decades. They formed your “authentic” independent individual mind. Volumes of stories, myths, and symbols were used to form your “authentic” independent individuality. You may think you came down from the heavens having already figured it all out, and my kids think they own the home they sleep in.

"ou're not allowed to kill other people except under very specific circumstances, such as self-defense (including wars of self-defense). That's largely unique to the West."

It's even more unique than that, since we don't follow it very consistently. I'm not sure about every other value system, but as a Christian I would not be surprised either way. Maybe God did reveal something unique to the Jews (which was then passed down to Christians) or alternatively, maybe the law written on everyone's heart (Paul's phrase) means that some of these basic moral principles are found everywhere (and flouted everywhere).

"It's not just natural resources that led Western civilization to be dominant and freer that most others. It is the value system."

Plus a willingness to flout the value system and take land from others when the opportunity presents itself, all the while telling oneself that it is moral and just to do so. (See the history of the West for examples). The West isn't the only group that does this, of course, and I agree that when followed what we call "Western values" are wonderful things. (Depending, though, on what you consider to be those values.)

"and my kids think they own the home they sleep in."

I can top that, but if you also have a cat you'll know what I'm about to say.

I offer this as a contrast to the idea that one is born, say a Jew, and therefore one must always be "a Jew" and then go about burdened with all of the ramifications of that quandry of meaning in a rapidly changing and increasingly interwoven human community.

A "burden" more and more of us are happily embracing. Classical values are never really outdated.

But as I've said, having a value system is not the same as every single person following it at every point. But without one, you cannot even seriously discuss whether you should.

Fuzzy, is there some links or references you'd want to list to back up your claims regarding the West vs. other societies? I've seen such claims before, sometimes from Christians and sometimes just from Western civilization boosters, but I think I have also seen Amartya Sen claim that one finds so-called unique Western values in other cultures that arose independent of the West. I'm relatively open-minded about this --the hint of closemindedness on my part stems from the sort of argument that begins with the alleged moral superiority of the West and ends with the conclusion that we should be bombing the hell out of or colonizing the hell out of or in some way dominating the hell out of our moral inferiors. But an argument could be misused and not be wrong in itself.

It occurs to me that it is relevant that Greek thinking was influenced by Indian thinking (East Indian, of course). The Greeks were quick to recognize that the Hindu dieties were similar to their own. In fact they as far as to see that they were the same, but only with a different name and cultural nuance. The Greeks, great thinkers that they were, integrated ideas from other cultures. They avidly sought new input. They probably would have integrated even more had they not been hindered by the travel and information storage constrictions of their time.

Again, these were people who wanted to learn and to grow intellectually.

Falling back into ancient clan paradigms is quite the opposite.

"Anyway, my point is after you were pushed from her womb, a whole community of folks steps in to clean you up, and wiping your filthy self, for God knows how many decades. They formed your “authentic” independent individual mind. "

I disagree completely. I would say that my authentic independent individual mind developed (and is still developing) due to my breaking away from whatever was stuffed into my head for my first decade or two. That said, I recognize that a lot of people; probably most, are merely the robotic product of societal/familial programming. I don't think this is a good thing.

"Classical values are never really outdated."

Also, Fuzzy, just curious. Do you apply the same respect and reverence to, say, Islam?

Donald Johnson writes: Fuzzy, is there some links or references you'd want to list to back up your claims regarding the West vs. other societies?

I did try to find one page which would have all of the info well-organized, but I was unable to. I tried to summarize what I did find combined with what I'd read in the past; if there is some reason to doubt specific claims, I'd be happy to try to do more research on it.

Blackhawk12 writes: Also, Fuzzy, just curious. Do you apply the same respect and reverence to, say, Islam?

Not sure what kind of respect and reverence you expect, or on what basis.

Not sure what kind of respect and reverence you expect, or on what basis.

Now realizing my phrasing might be easily misinterpreted. Let me try again:

Can you be specific about what I should respect and revere? As a rule, I am going to revere what is consonant with my own values, which Islam is not. I can respect people's right to believe what they like. If that's not what you're looking for, perhaps you can expand on your question?

Since Donald requested this, I'll try and sketch out why I think that Christianity was a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for the development of the idea of universal human rights. (I'm coming to this as a historian of medieval religion/morality, so admit I'm much less informed about eastern religious thought). This is a very broad-brush approach, focusing not so much on individual ethical rules, such as the Golden Rule, as on the overall shape of religious traditions.

Most religions, as far as I'm aware, are tribal and polytheistic: we over here worship these gods, you over there worship those gods. Most early societies were built on small-scale solidarity; we should help those in our tribe or who are like us, we don't have to help those in another tribe (or indeed, it may even be our duty to harm them).

Polytheistic religions encourage religious/cultural tolerance: both the Persian and Roman empires were noted for this. But they can also encourages a belief in the alienness of others – they are different sorts of people, who do not necessarily share anything in common with us. Monotheistic religions, in contrast, have a horrible record on religious tolerance, but they do have the belief that God created everyone, that all humans are children of the same God. As a result, they encourage wider forms of solidarity than the tribe or the caste, potentially reaching out to all humans, or at least to all co-religionists across the globe (e.g. the Muslim umma). At some basic conceptual level, one God (or one true path, as in Buddhism) goes with one human race and the idea of the shared humanity of the king and the peasant. The idea of many gods fits with many different, separate peoples and no universal values.

What you do with this idea of unity depends on what you think about this earth and what happens after. If religion is just about escaping this world (as in Buddhism and some strands of Christianity) then shared humanity means that both the king and peasant are equally miserable in this world. If you're in a religion which stresses the need to care for your brothers because they are also children of God (Judaism, Islam and some other strands of Christianity), then you have the basis for the idea of caring for the practical needs of others beyond your immediate community. I'm open to correction by those who know more about non-western religions, but I don't think there are many parallels to the medieval Christian tradition of kings washing the feet of the poor (on Maundy Thursday). That's just a symbol of solidarity, of course, but it's a symbol that shows the potential of Christian ideology to consider all people as fully human, as mattering to God. The same principle is seen in the Jewish tradition of care for the stranger, or Islam's demands for charitable giving.

As I've already said, monotheistic religions are mostly very bad about accepting religious pluralism (I don't know if Buddhism is an exception to this). Both the Old Testament and the Koran have demands for believers to punish unbelievers (Islam makes an exception for Jews and Christians, but not polytheists). The New Testament doesn't have such demands, perhaps at least partly because it was written down in a situation where the Christian church didn't have such muscle. As soon as it did (after the conversion of Constantine) the church started happily applying religious coercion with the worst of them. But it didn't have that tradition embedded in it quite as fundamentally as some others. Which meant that when political circumstances made it convenient for Christian societies to accept some religious pluralism (e.g. to avoid sectarian conflicts or to accommodate useful Jewish immigrants), there were fewer theological obstacles than a Jewish or Muslim state would find to incorporating such practices.

As I said, I think Christianity was necessary, but not sufficient for the development of human rights, and the empirical evidence supports that. There were repeated attempts to put the egalitarian principles of Christianity into practice, but they tended to get suppressed fairly brutally by Christian rulers (Peasant Revolt of 1381, Anabaptists, Levellers, etc). But I'm not aware of universalist human rights traditions that have come solely out of other cultures, whereas it's hard to see much non-western influence on French Revolutionary thought, say.

I also think it's perfectly possible to maintain the principle of human rights without a society being Christian, but only if you have some other conceptual underpinning to the belief that all humans are the same at some basic level and thus deserve equal rights. Evolutionary theory, showing we're all one species, is one possibility, but I think Social Darwinism suggests it may not be a strong enough support on its own to maintain them.

I can talk a bit more about the development either of military ethics or democracy in a separate comment, if anyone's interested. There are rather different trajectories there, I'd say, and I certainly don't think Christianity has much to do with the development of democracy.

I expect Hartmut to weigh in here, but that having a say in your life is one of the key points that Greeks liked to distinguish themselves from the East with.

I tend to keep out of discussions on Jewish themes. It's to easy to step on a mine and these discussions have a tendency to get nasty even in reasonable company.
On Greece, I'd say it is far more complicated then most people think. From up close those democratic Athenians look like a bunch of arrogant and hypocritical donkey cavities (even before they turned the Delian League into a tool to enrich themselves). And after their resurgence after the lost war with Sparta the tolerance went out the window too. One main charge against Socrates was the alleged introduction of foreign religious ideas/gods/cults and insufficient belief in/worship of the tarditional deities of the city. In general they treated anyone not a full citizen like shit (with women essentially ranking even below slaves).
Sparta served as a serious inspiration for modern fascism (btw there were actual discussions in the Nazi leadership to reintroduce the infamous black broth) but at the same time practiced equality of the sexes (all hands needed to keep down the helots I presume). Anf the philosophers were quite a mixed bunch too. Name any idea, benevolent or outricht nasty, and there'll be a Greek philosopher who discussed it.
I think the Greeks had a general tendency to think in systems but without regard for practicality while the Romans were primarily practical and came up with a systematical description only afterwards often primarily in order to justify what already existed. Compare Platon and Cicero. Platon tries to design the perfect system from scratch (what is the best system?) while Cicero tries to give the Roman republican system a philosophical basis (Why is OUR system the best?). With the seeming abundance of competing/rivaling thinkers in Greece it was more or less inevitable that some came up with ideas we recognize as the basis of our own systems (but also the opposite).
Although parts of the NT try to infuse Greek ways of thinking into originally Jewish ideas, the church (in the West) based its philosophy mainly on Roman models or at least models that had undergone Romanisation (neoplatonism and stoicism). And Christian theoreticians came up with the principle of Parteilichkeit, i.e. the open declaration and justification of a double standard (while prior to that the main purpose was to hide its application).
Even inside the christian community the idea of equality was shortlived (the principle of 'some are more equal than others' was always present and to a degree still is*).
It's getting late (after midnight around here) and I see that I am rambling. So let this be enough for the moment.

*I know enough religious people of the type 'I am more humble than thou, so you are my inferior'

Interesting stuff and apologies to Hartmut for pulling him in. About ideas floating around, I guess it is dangerous to attribute historical ideas of change to societies by using quotes from individuals, but I have always been impressed by "Homo sum. Humani a me nihil alienum puto." which is from Terence. (I'm human, so nothing that is human is alien to me) A friend of mine translates that as meaning 'there is no such thing as foreign studies'. Of course, we get our word barbarian from the Greeks, which basically means that its a person who talks funny, but the Terence quote seems to be something that Greeks added to the mix while the impression of people speaking 'bar bar bar' is something that was already there.

Sorry, I meant to add, magistra, if you feel the comment box is too confining, you are welcome to try and talk about the development of military ethics and/or democracy on the front page. Contact me at libjpn at gmail if you are

Fuzzy Face:

I'm sorry I didn't get back to reply to you before Shabbat; presumably you'll be back after sunset tomorrow.

- you're not allowed to kill other people except under very specific circumstances, such as self-defense (including wars of self-defense). That's largely unique to the West. In most other cultures, you're allowed to kill to avenge insults, real or perceived.

This is absolutely incorrect.

In the first place, killing "to avenge insults, real or perceived" was an acknowledged feature of Western society until the 19th century: see any good book on the history of dueling.

In the second place, both Confuscianism and Buddhism do not tolerate dueling, honor killing, or revenge killing. Indeed, the Buddhist/Hindu philosophy of Ahimsa is far more devoted to non-violence than anything found in Western culture.

That's just your first point. If you want to play "comparison of world cultures & history" -- which happens to be one of my favorite games -- you need to do more background reading. Recent books in the field that I've found illuminating include:

Stay away from Niall Ferguson whatever you do.

I forgot to thank you for the post, magistra. And it would be nice if you'd take LJ up on his offer.

Looks like there might be the makings of a debate between Doctor Science and Fuzzyface. I think I'll just watch.

Slarti:
That wasn't my point of disagreement. My point of disagreement was that you characterized, or appeared to characterize, comforting the afflicted as the job of a prophet. In other words: one of a prophet's primary functions.

Aha, I see the problem: I was eliding a couple of steps.

I agree that the mission of a prophet is to listen to and proclaim the word of G-d. Sometimes what G-d wants is to chastise or warn his people, sometimes he want to comfort them. So over the centuries the prophetic writings have been read for warning and direction, but also for comfort.

Slarti:

In addition, I object to your characterization of social justice as a prime admonition of the Torah.

Oh, that's not just my characterization -- it's a common belief all along the non-Orthodox Jewish spectrum. See the quote from the editor of Tikkun in my post:

The spiritual well-being of the Jewish people requires the ability to identify with the suffering of others
-- or this, which I linked to: the most important mitzvah:
Love the stranger in you midst, for you were strangers in Egypt. Here, the stranger is the Other, the foreigner, the not-me, not-my-family, not-my-group person. We are commanded not once, not twice, not thrice, but three dozen times, love the Other.

This, like Rashi's Golden Rule summary of all of Torah, suggests that what is most important is how we treat our fellow human beings. The Creator (Blessed Be the One) does not care as much how we tie knots on our tallit (the tzit-tzit, or fringes of the prayer shawl) as the Creator (the Blessed One) cares how we bind ourselves in relationship to each other.

Another facet of this emphasis is the concept of Tikkun Olam, "Repairing the World":
Tikkun olam, once associated with a mystical approach to all mitzvot, now is most often used to refer to a specific category of mitzvot involving work for the improvement of society—a usage perhaps closer to the term’s classical rabbinic origins than to its longstanding mystical connotations.
Yes, some of this will sound reminiscent of Christianity -- why is that surprising?

For me, the distinctive flavor of the Jewish Golden Rule comes from, "for you were strangers in Egypt." We are to identify with the suffering of others because *we know what it's like*, it's not supposed to be all based on hypotheticals. And that ties into the Passover mandate:

In every generation a person must regard himself as if he personally has come out of Egypt.
I'm trying to say that, in my observation and experience, social justice is a core *religious* value for non-Orthodox American Jews, and if we break with Israel over it it's a *religious* disagreement.

Slarti:

You wrote:

There is a substantial difference between American non-Orthodox Jews and Israeli religious Jews, and glossing over that as if it were nothing, which is what it appears you are doing (in effect, just shrugging off differences in opinion between the two), is I think a mistake.

Wow. Apparently I miscommunicated big-time. I was *trying* to say that there are huge differences between American non-Orthodox Jews and Israeli religious Jews (who are almost all Orthodox), and that these differences are one of the things driving younger American Jews away from identifying with Israel.

What part of my post gave you the impression that I was glossing over or shrugging off the differences? I obviously made some kind of mistake, and I'd like to know what not to do next time.

Hartmut,

I get the sense that the NT/Christianity was much more influenced by Hellenized infused Roman thought, than it was Judaism?

I wish I could remember the author, but a Jewish thinker made the argument that there is no Judeo-Christian tradition. That it would be more historically correct to call it a Helleno-Christian Tradition.

"I'm trying to say that, in my observation and experience, social justice is a core *religious* value for non-Orthodox American Jews, and if we break with Israel over it it's a *religious* disagreement."

There ought to be another consideration for Jews regarding breaking with Israel; that is loyalty to this country, the USA.

If a Jew is an American citizen and Israel chooses a course of action and attempts to involve the US in that course of action, and that course of action is not the most ideal option for the US, then, all religious considerations aside, the jew has the obligation to break with Israel and to side with the US.

There is already too much activity on the part of American Jews to influence campaigns and policy formation for the benefit of Israel. I suppose if one truly believes that what is best for Israel is also best for the US, then there is no conflict of loyalty (and, indeed, much of the rhetoric is an attempt to convince people that this is the case). I just don't accept that anyone beyond a lunatic fringe really believes that to be the case.

FYI, the comment problem seems to have gone away, so I deleted the frontpage post. However, if it takes some time for your comment to go up, it's not us, it's the (blogging) gods...

On the wider question of our involvement in the Mideast, where previous empires have gone to die, one of our venerable forefathers:

http://andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com/2012/09/john-quincy-adams-advice-to-the-candidates-.html

Lest anyone believe this is isolationist, substituting "learning the languages" for "troops" is something else.

Count, I think Usama Bin Laden understood that history better than our leaders. It was a baked-in feature of the 9/11 plot.

On the wider question of our involvement in the Mideast, where previous empires have gone to die

Which empires would those be? Wasn't the original caliphate itself an empire that spread almost exclusively through conquest and conversion by the sword? I believe that is the case.

someotherdude, the way I see it the Western church rose on a diet of Roman philosophy, i.e. a mix of filtered old Greek philosophy spiked at times with a dose of modern (gnostic). What would later become the Eastern church(es) drew far more directly from Hellenist sources which were themselves a mix of the old with oriental (esp. Persian and to a degree Egyptian) ideas. The latter played a large part in the development of the Caesaropapism typical for the Byzantine Empire. In the West Cicero became something of an idol for some of the most important Fathers of the Church (Hieronymus had nightmares about going to hell for being more Ciceronian than Christian) and he was considered a pagan visionary who anticipated the coming of Christ that just had lived a few years too early (anima naturaliter Christiana). Btw, some of Vergil's poems were also seen as a premonition in that direction (although what they took as visions of the coming Christ is more likely a backdated prophecy of the 'divine' Augustus restoring the golden age).
I would say, but that's just my interpretation, that the West mainly absorbed the affirmative philosophies (strongly Romanised classical Greek philosophy) while the East went more for the speculative and modern philosophies with litte Roman input. In both cases the Gnosis, although identified as archenemy of the true faith beginning as early as with St.Paul's condemnation of it*, managed to poison the tree (to this very day, I'd say). In my opinion some of the worst aspects of church doctrine can be attributed to gnostic influence. This includes but is not limited to the elitist understanding of the priesthood and the rabid somatophobia**.
Again, I am no certified expert on theology or philosophy and it has been quite some years since I last engaged in the topic. I also have to admit that I intensely even viscerally dislike some of the fathers of the Church. In my opinion their doctrines were directly responsible for the death of innumerable human beings and the misery of many more. And that was no later abuse, some of them practiced it while still alive.

*but even he shows certain signs of infection visible in his quite contradictory stances on some topics (within the letters of undisputed authorship. It gets worse when those with disputed authenticity are included).
**also fed by neoplatonism. I believe the soma-sema (the body - a tomb) idea came originally from that side and the slogan got adopted by the gnostics who knew good PR when they saw it.

MckT:

According to the J Q Adams biographer, the Roman Empire and Napoleon's messing about in Egypt.

http://www.britannica.com/blogs/2012/09/john-quincy-adams-qa/

"Wasn't the original caliphate itself an empire that spread almost exclusively through conquest and conversion by the sword? I believe that is the case."

Since the Middle East is not one unified country, apparently that original caliphate also died. Incidentally, I don't know how much conversion by the sword there was. Pagans were not treated well by Muslims (or by Christians either) or so I've read, not being "people of the book", but Christians could remain Christians and Jews remain Jews, though they would be second class citizens. But that was fairly tolerant behavior by the standards of the day.

More knowledgeable people can jump in and correct me. (Even less knowledgeable people too, of course, this being the internet.)

Magistra,

If I understand your comment, and I may not, you are saying that monotheism promotes the idea of universal human rights better than polytheism, and that Christianity does this better than either Judaism or Islam.

It's not clear to me what the basis for the latter part of this proposition is, at least with respect to Christian beliefs as opposed to Christian political power. You write:

...(after the conversion of Constantine) the church started happily applying religious coercion with the worst of them. But it didn't have that tradition embedded in it quite as fundamentally as some others.

I do not think Christianity has less of a tradition of religious coercion than Judaism.

Which meant that when political circumstances made it convenient for Christian societies to accept some religious pluralism (e.g. to avoid sectarian conflicts or to accommodate useful Jewish immigrants), there were fewer theological obstacles than a Jewish or Muslim state would find to incorporating such practices.

Is it historically clear that the rulers of Christendom treated members of other religions better than Islamic rulers? I'm not so sure. With respect to Jews, what tolerance there was in Christian lands was based, as you suggest, on occasional political and financial convenience rather than any moral principle. Whether that was also true under Islam I don't know.

As I said, I think Christianity was necessary, but not sufficient for the development of human rights, and the empirical evidence supports that. There were repeated attempts to put the egalitarian principles of Christianity into practice, but they tended to get suppressed fairly brutally by Christian rulers (Peasant Revolt of 1381, Anabaptists, Levellers, etc).

How many of the movements you cite here were interested in religious tolerance extending beyond various Christian sects?

I'm not trying to be difficult here. I just find your claim a little surprising.

In the first place, killing "to avenge insults, real or perceived" was an acknowledged feature of Western society until the 19th century: see any good book on the history of dueling.

Granted - and you could also presumably add trial by combat. But in both cases, the theory appears to have been that somehow justice would be served. Certainly one challenged to a duel had options of weapons or refusal (albeit with a taint of cowardice). That's not the same as "he insulted me, so I can just kill him." There are rules and procedures which must be followed.

In the second place, both Confuscianism and Buddhism do not tolerate dueling, honor killing, or revenge killing.

Again, granted. I did say most other cultures, not all other cultures.

And thanks for the book recommendations. I'll try to get copies; my local library, unfortunately, has been closed for construction for some time.

Dr. Science writes:
-- or this, which I linked to: the most important mitzvah:

Love the stranger in you midst, for you were strangers in Egypt. Here, the stranger is the Other, the foreigner, the not-me, not-my-family, not-my-group person. We are commanded not once, not twice, not thrice, but three dozen times, love the Other.
This, like Rashi's Golden Rule summary of all of Torah, suggests that what is most important is how we treat our fellow human beings. The Creator (Blessed Be the One) does not care as much how we tie knots on our tallit (the tzit-tzit, or fringes of the prayer shawl) as the Creator (the Blessed One) cares how we bind ourselves in relationship to each other.

I would say that is largely true, but overstated. First, by way of agreement, we have Hillel's statement (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbos 31a)

"What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. This is the whole of the Torah; all the rest is commentary - now go and study"
How we treat one another is the core; that is why the prophets scorn insincere fasts, but that does not mean that we can do without the rest. That is why Hillel concludes "go and study." Rituals of all kinds are intended to teach and drive home lessons. If you don't learn the lessons, the rituals are empty; but if you don't do the rituals, it is hard to transmit the lessons over the generations. One of the serious challenges of liberal Judaism is that it tends not to engage the next generation.

Rabbi Jonah Pesner, Senior Vice President of the Union for Reform Judaism, notes that as many as 80% of young people fall away from Reform Judaism by eight grade (after bar or bat mitzvah). It's very hard to get people to identify and value something that doesn't have strong rituals and traditions. The numbers aren't noticeably better for Conservative Judaism.

"It's very hard to get people to identify and value something that doesn't have strong rituals and traditions. "

Really? Or is it that many people feel what I have expressed in comments above; that it is better to find oneself as an individudual and then as a member of the global community - that is all humanity - as opposed to being bound to a tradition whose myths and symbols, despite strong rituals and traditions, no longer have relevance.

Your answer seems to be to double down on the clan identification.

You're going to keep on losing.

Let your people go free.

(from wiki) - During his Dinkytown days, Zimmerman began introducing himself as "Bob Dylan".[30] In his autobiography, Dylan acknowledged that he had been influenced by the poetry of Dylan Thomas.[31][a 1] Explaining his change of name in a 2004 interview, Dylan remarked: "You're born, you know, the wrong names, wrong parents. I mean, that happens. You call yourself what you want to call yourself. This is the land of the free."[32]

It seems to me, Blackhawk, that you are deciding for others what should be of relevence to them. If you find value in the traditions under which you were raised, why shouldn't you keep those traditions and try to further them? I don't think anyone here is saying that people should be forced to do so, regardless of the value of the traditions, or with contempt for other traditions.

Some people love their families, their histories and their cultures, sometimes for good reason and sometimes not. You seem to think one must reject his upbringing, because the only way one would stay in keeping with it would be to shut out the rest of the world. I don't think that's true.

I agree that people should be free to follow whatever it is they prefer, within the bounds of morality, but I believe that includes keeping the traditions in which they were raised. Maybe there are circumstances under which that would be stupid, but that doesn't mean it's always stupid. And I see no reason to believe that rejecting one's cultural traditions can't sometimes be stupid, depending on what someone does adopt in their place.

And going back to the idea of classical values, I think the point was that they are universal, rather than being applicable only in rarified and clannish environments.

"You seem to think one must reject his upbringing, because the only way one would stay in keeping with it would be to shut out the rest of the world. I don't think that's true."

The problem, hairshirt, personal growth issues aside, is that we know that clan identification leads to conflict with outsiders. That is, sadly, a primitve, yet very much active, feature of human nature.

We know from experimental social psychology that even obscure or shallow arbitrary clan identification will set people with much in common, accept the clan ID against each other. Very silly divisions can create conflict. In one experiment a group of college students is arbitrarily assigned to either red team or blue team and then given a series of tasks to accomplish as respective teams. Questionaires show that red team and blue team became quite competitive and that members would assign positive values and attributes to members of their own team and significantly more negative values and attributes to members of the other team. Then there are prisoner experiments where college students are aribtrarily assigned to be either a guard or a prisoner. After a short while - a few days? - the experiments, in some cases, had to be stopped because the subjects had forgotten that is was just a game and there was real abuse occurring. Again, each group, when questioned, dehumanized the other and attributed very negative values and other characteristics to the other. These experiments have been replicated. I'm sure yoy have heard of them. And these are just simple games involving supposedly intelligent non-invested students.

Is there some value to clan identification? In some cases, yes, of course. But there is always a cost as well, to the each individual and to the group. Like anything in life you can't just focus on the benefit while ignoring the cost (or vice versa).

Specifically regarding the Jews, their strong clan identification has long caused them much suffering at the hands of their host countries. Even in Israel, there is much conflict with their own Arab citizens and neighbors.

I don't think it's always bad for people to maintain a sense of their traditions and history. Some people are more in need of that kind of sense of social continuity and support than others.

However, I do think it is always bad for people to withdraw into an inflexible ancient clan with traditions that no longer have relevance in the modern world. People have a bad habit of mistaking the metaphor for the truth behind it. The 4,000 year old methaphors of a desert tribe no longer hold today. They are disfunctional, even schizophrenic. A lot of people have no trouble pointing this when discussing fundementalist christians. Regarding Jews, not so much. But it's the same thing.

Like I said, I was raised to "never forget" the genocide perpetrated by the Turks on the Armenians and to hate Turks. Had I not been under to obligation to Uncle Sam, I was ready to volunteer to go fight in Nogorno-Karabahk. I'm glad, now, that Unlce Sam said "no". I was raised to see non-Armenians as "odars", an Armenian term that is basically the same in meaning as goyim.

A few years later I was scratching my head wondering what the hell I was thinking. I even ended up having a Turkish girlfriend for a while (great looking and cooked a mean Kufta to boot - met her at middle eastern festival). I know I am much happier and much better for letting all of that go. I no longer have anything to do with it. It was someone's else's life in another time and place. I have even changed my last name to my middle name (which is anglo saxon).

I know what this clannish BS is all about and you can't sugarcoat it as far as I am concerned. It's not just a social club. It's about who is alright and who isn't and who we hate. In theory it may be different, true, but in practice it always works to bring to out the worst in people. I don't see how you can deny this. Just look at what's going on in the world. Clans hacking each other to bits (literally hacking in the case of Rwanda) even though they're really only families apart. Show me where it's otherwise.

Show me where it's otherwise.

from this link

As "globalization" increases, so does the loss of human languages. People find it easier to conduct business and communicate with those outside their own culture if they speak more widely used languages like Chinese, Hindi, English, Spanish or Russian. Children are not being educated in languages spoken by a limited number of people. As fewer people use local languages, they gradually die out.

At least 3,000 of the world’s 6,000-7,000 languages (about 50 percent) are about to be lost. Why should we care? Here are several reasons.

The enormous variety of these languages represents a vast, largely unmapped terrain on which linguists, cognitive scientists and philosophers can chart the full capabilities—and limits—of the human mind.
Each endangered language embodies unique local knowledge of the cultures and natural systems in the region in which it is spoken.
These languages are among our few sources of evidence for understanding human history.

This time of year is really busy for me, so forgive me for just quoting rather than making it a personal comment, but in some cases, the desire to free people from 'clannish BS' becomes a requirement that they speak and act 'like everyone else'. Speaking English and being a part of the culture that is assimilating has you miss that.

Specifically regarding the Jews, their strong clan identification has long caused them much suffering at the hands of their host countries.

Just wanted to make sure everyone saw this, since it's essentially blaming Jews for the Holocaust, pogroms, and what have you. It's not the clan identification of Nazis or ethnic Russians or Slavs or WASPs that have caused this suffering. No, it's those pesky, sneaky Jews and their Jewy-ness.

"At least 3,000 of the world’s 6,000-7,000 languages (about 50 percent) are about to be lost. Why should we care? Here are several reasons."

First off, the link doesn't address the question I asked - show me where clannishness doesn't lead to social strife, war and persecution. And, even if the loss of linguistic diversity is actually a loss of quantifiable value, you still have to show that the loss is greater than what is gained, which you/your link has not.

Hey, things change. In fact the only constant in life is change is itself. The reasons listed for why we should care sound pretty much like some acedemicians' intellectual thesis writing needs. Lots of traditional American values and lifestyles have also been lost over the past 100 years as well. Sometimes I get the feeling that sociologists and anthropologists are worst sorts of bigots. They want all those quaint little primitive people to stay that way, like animals in the zoo,so they can be observed and studied. So you, also a member of of the dominant culture, get all your toys, the iPads, the cell phones, the flatscreen tv, twitter, facebook, flights to other countries and employment and general exposure in those cultures, etc ,etc, but some tribal person is to be denied all of that which you enjoy because someone needs to be the missing link to the past?

As I say, why should people remain behind the new paradigm? Of course they don't when given the opportunity to go with the current winning flow.

"Just wanted to make sure everyone saw this, since it's essentially blaming Jews for the Holocaust...."


Not even a smiley face for a nice try, silly phillie, you little PC cop, you. However, I am glad you recognize that the holocaust, like so many similar events, was (and are) all about clan identification. So you are making my point for me.

Blackhawk12,

Even when you are attempting to be an “authentic individual” you are acting like a typical white kid raised in an American consumer society. You seemed to have bought into the idea, that you are the lone wolf trying to just figure it all out, you and a million other white kids are all, ironically, typical cookie-cutter “individuals”. You use the myths and symbols of the society around you to express your pioneering ways…but typical and predictable, and obscenely clannish. But instead of admitting you are part of a clan, you think you’re individuality, is somehow universal as well. (I think it’s called male privilege or white privilege).

Most new white ethnic kids would rather assimilate into the larger “non-ethnic” ethnic group: WASP! But that does not make you some radical individualist; you are very typical of new immigrant children. Your old “clan” can no longer fulfill your needs, and the dominant group seems to have better perks clan-wise, than the old. Nothing wrong with that, except you are smack dab in the middle of the strongest, most influential clan in the world and you just can’t see it. But you can certainly see all the other clans around you…and it’s both funny and sad.

Amazing that someone who lives in a country full of "Why should I have to press one for Engish, this is America?!" Idiots doesn't understand the connections between control of language, control of culture and control of power.

Actually, it isn't, because he is a deeply, deeply stupid person.

First off, the link doesn't address the question I asked - show me where clannishness doesn't lead to social strife, war and persecution.

If the argument is that we should be against anything that causes social strife, that is an argument that both society should never change (because any change is social strife, right?) and that we should let the dominant power decide and any smaller group should assimilate. So you've bravely chosen to argue that imperialism, slavery, Jim Crow and virtually feature in society that has changed for the better is not really worth it.

It's basically the same as an argument from social darwinism and the whole shtick that if you are a member of the dominant social clan, you can use iPads, cell phones etc (and the implied if you aren't, obviously, you can't) makes the link palpable. Silly others, if they were really worthwhile, they would have invented something that we couldn't do without. if you can't figure out why this is problematic, I'm not sure I can explain it so you can understand.

Byomotov,

I wasn't as clear as I should be, partly because I'm trying to pull together a lot of different ideas. I'll try and be a bit more specific this time.

The Old Testament (particularly the Torah) provides a fairly detailed framework for how you run a whole society, top to bottom: appropriate sexual behaviour, treatment of slaves, justifications for war, judicial procedures etc. The New Testament doesn't have this kind of material. You have the Gospel teachings which give a few moral principles but no detailed specifications, and then you have St Paul and other epistle writers trying to work out ad hoc responses on how you run the churches (small-scale voluntary organisations).

After that, in about 100-400 CE you have men in very different areas of the Roman Empire developing separate theories of what you do in a lot of situations that the New Testament didn't discuss and how you run a society (rather than just a sect) on Christian lines. Peter Brown, The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity (New York, 1988) is a fascinating book about how many different ideas about sexuality there were that early theologians came up with. (He's also just published something on early Christian ideas about wealth, which I haven't read yet). There is enough contradictory source material in the Old and New Testaments combined to make it possible to support most positions theologically: pacifism or holy war, equality or subordination of women, religious coercion or religious pluralism. The views that the Church Fathers came up with were often influential, but they weren't definitive. Even in Catholic thought "because St Augustine says that" is not taken in itself as a sufficient argument.

The Koran also doesn't have this kind of framework for running a society. But as I understand it (and I admit my knowledge of Islamic history is limited), the hadith writers produced such a framework fairly quickly (within 200 years), and these collections became canonical in Sunni and Shia tradition (even if they have different canons).

In other words, both Judaism and Islam from fairly early on had agreed forms of ideal social organisation: a detailed template for what the correct Jewish/Muslim state should be like. Christianity didn't; it was more readily adaptable to other cultures, because the social details in its scriptures were less specific. As a result, it took on more of the flavour of the cultures which adopted it: Peter Brown speaks of the early medieval period as one of micro-Christianities, each believing and practising separately.

The disadvantage of this was that Christianity took on a lot of the nastier habits of some of the societies it entered. Racism was justified via "the curse of Ham", etc. But this lack of definition of social structures also meant that there was more leeway for Christian reformers to argue for changes to social practice than for Jewish or Muslim ones. The Old Testament, the New Testament and the Koran all accept slavery, but the New Testament allows more wiggle-room for change via the "neither slave nor free".

On the specific issues of religious tolerance, for the majority of its history, Islam has been more tolerant of both Christians and Jews than Christianity has been of either Muslims or Jews. There are Christian communities in Egypt that have been there for more than 1000 years; until very recently there were Jewish communities in Iran, etc.

This is because Islamic thought in the seventh to eighth century produced a strategy for accommodating religious minorities that was considerably more enlightened than contemporary Christian societies (such as Byzantium or Visigothic Spain). However, this accommodation was embedded in a specific institutional framework of the subordination of Jews and Christians (dhimma), seen as justified by a seventh century pact made by Caliph Umar. Because this treatment was authoritatively formalised early on in the Caliphate, it's a lot harder to alter than the nastier traditions of persecution of the Jews in Christian tradition, which have rarely been written down in authoritative documents. (In western Europe, the papacy was only effectively able to enforce its doctrines from about 1050-1500 CE and even then it often got ignored).

So a form of religious tolerance which looked enlightened in the eighth century, but hasn't essentially changed since then, ends up as less accepting of religious pluralism than a Christian tradition towards other religions (and heretics and atheists) that started out more nastily, but was less firmly fixed in canonical texts and so easier to adapt to changing social norms.

"What we need here is a Prophet"

But that is hardly a solution either, when (as you and Beinart point out) Jabotinsky and his followers seem to see the prophets as part of the problem, and reject their teachings.

I've just started reading Beinart's book, which I'm finding very interesting. I don't expect any solutions to the problems of the Middle East from it, but as an analysis of some of those problems it's quite compelling. It's certainly helping educate this European in some of the tensions within Judaism that I was pretty ignorant about.

One thing I found quite striking was the comparison made by some of the early Zionists between the position of the Jews in Palestine and the Boers in South Africa - something I'd only seen before from those who condemn current Israeli policy.

What part of my post gave you the impression that I was glossing over or shrugging off the differences? I obviously made some kind of mistake, and I'd like to know what not to do next time.

I don't think that it was any one thing; it was more the ascription of the rift between Israeli and American Jews to lack of spirituality. Which I think misses the point that Israeli Orthodox Jews tend to be more about ritual than about compassion. Which sounds overly glib now that I'm about to hit "Post"; it's not that Israeli religious Jews are not at all compassionate, it's that compassion doesn't overrule obedience to ritual.

Your general point about the most important mitzvot is I think just a bare assertion. You have some people who agree with you, but there are also others that disagree with you. The most important thing, though, is what God thinks, which is not generally available. My personal favorite answer among those presented at your link is that the most important commandment is the one that rules the issue before you right now.

But that's just my favorite answer; I don't pretend that I have any basis for believing it's the "right" one.

Please don't take this as an attack; it's intended to be more of a discussion. I don't mistake myself for any kind of authority on any religion, including my own.

Even in Israel, there is much conflict with their own Arab citizens and neighbors.

In Israel, Israelis frequently live cheek-by-jowl with Arabs. Peacefully.

"Much" is doing a lot of work, here. If you look at violence in Israel and subtract border incidents, I think you'll see something a little different from what your imagination has constructed. Most of Nazareth is Arab, for example, and you only rarely hear of Arab/Jew violence. And in Jerusalem, Arabs live a mostly peaceful coexistence with Jews.

I don't think it's the locals. Look up the rash of bombings in Jerusalem and you'll mostly find that the perps are from elsewhere. Gaza and other border sites are of course a different story. Point is: it's not just a cultural thing, because it's clear to anyone with vision that Arabs and Jews can and do live essentially right next to each other without serious clashes.

Here's a 2011 poll on Israeli Jewish and Israeli Palestinian (or Arab--I gather the PC term changed, but am not sure) attitudes--

link

Nearly all the Israeli Arab and a majority of Israeli Jews think there is some discrimination against Arabs in Israel. Not that Israel is worse than, say, Egypt with respect to its Copts, but things aren't perfect. There is violence against Palestinians from settlers. In Jerusalem, the Palestinian claim is that Israelis are trying to take over, both within the city and by building massive "suburbs"/settlements outside that they don't intend to give up.

"And in Jerusalem, Arabs live a mostly peaceful coexistence with Jews."


And Arabs enjoy the same rights as Jewish Israeli citizens? Or is it more of a Jim Crow situation?

Yes, of course Donald (re; the poll you cite - BTW, I have been to Israel).

Why is it I feel the need to intensely fact check anything that anyone on this blog writes? The willingness to turn the truth, logic or another commenter's words into a pretzel to maintain an otherwise untenable position is as amazing as it is pathetic.

Clans don't fight each other, ethnic/religious clanishness is not only not a major source of conflict I'm only saying that it is because I'm a spoiled white boy.......Bwah ha ha ha ha ha.....

Why is it I feel the need to intensely fact check anything that anyone on this blog writes? The willingness to turn the truth, logic or another commenter's words into a pretzel to maintain an otherwise untenable position is as amazing as it is pathetic.

I don't think you should be so harsh on yourself.

Magistra,

Thanks for the more detailed discussion. Let me raise a few points in response.

First, you talk about the Islamic concept of dhimma as representing a permanent tolerated but subordinate position. To the best of my knowledge Judaism contains no parallel concept - the Chosen People idea is entirely different.

More important, with respect to dhimma, we do not know how it would have evolved had Islam enjoyed the political and military success of Christianity in later years. It's plausible, it seems to me, that it would have become a lower bound, rather than a standard, for treatment of religious minorities, or that it could have more or less disappeared under different historical circumstances.

Has Christianity adopted similar views? Well, I'm no expert on Aquinas, but a quick google on "Aquinas Jews" turns up:

Your Excellency inquired whether it is allowable for you at some time and in what way to make an exaction upon the Jews.

To which question (proposed in this unqualified way) it can be answered that although, as the laws say, the Jews by reason of their fault are sentenced to perpetual servitude and thus the lords of the lands in which they dwell may take things from them as though they were their own—with, nonetheless, this restraint observed that the necessary subsidies of life in no way be taken from them, because it still is necessary that we "walk honestly even in the presence of those who are outsiders (I Thes. 4:11),"

Sounds a little dhimmish to me.

It seems to me that you rely on somewhat abstract arguments, without giving sufficient weight to actual practice. Does Christianity define structures that consider non-Christians inferior? Maybe not. But it was certainly widely interpreted to justify violence against non-believers, for any number of reasons. And its leaders were often among the more enthusiastic supporters and perpetrators. Do I need to mention the Crusades? I'm sure you've read Luther, and the popes condoned and promoted anti-Semitism well past 1500. It's all very well to point to isolated reform movements, which mostly failed, but they were not the voice of organized Christianity.

Christianity certainly adapted to changing norms over time, though quite slowly, in my opinion. Isn't it possible that Islam, under similar conditions, would have evolved similarly?

And Arabs enjoy the same rights as Jewish Israeli citizens? Or is it more of a Jim Crow situation?

I can't really say. Arabs are certainly not represented proportionally in the Knesset, but neither are blacks, hispanics and women represented proportionally in our Congress. What those things mean in terms of human rights, I don't know.

Probably Arabs have it a great deal better in Israel than Jews have it in Arab countries. I know: probably irrelevant.

Clans don't fight each other, ethnic/religious clanishness is not only not a major source of conflict I'm only saying that it is because I'm a spoiled white boy.......Bwah ha ha ha ha ha.....

When people point out that what they perceive is a lack of self-awareness on your part, I don't think that means they don't believe clans fight each other or they think the world is free of ethnic strife.

You have practicing Jews writing on this thread things like "What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. This is the whole of the Torah; all the rest is commentary - now go and study." These are people who see their tradition as being in opposition to clannish fighting and dehumanization of the "other." That opposition must stem from the recognition of that which is being opposed. You don't need to point it out to people who have already recognized it and are already in opposition to it as a result of their traditions.

Perhaps the cardboard cutouts of the people you are arguing with aren't particularly accurate depictions of the actual people you should (or shouldn't?) be arguing with.

"Probably Arabs have it a great deal better in Israel than Jews have it in Arab countries. I know: probably irrelevant."

Probably, though until the Arab spring the Arab countries were monarchies or dictatorships. In that case the proper comparison would be to Palestinians on the West Bank, who basically live under military rule by the Israelis, with a token Palestinian authority in place.

One of the crucial tests of the Arab spring will be how minorities are treated. But it's probably safe to guess there will be some turbulent years before we can tell.

"You have practicing Jews writing on this thread things like "What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. This is the whole of the Torah"

Sure, and that's wonderful. We also have that same practicing Jew stating that he finds Islam to be inferior and we also had me stating that while most major religions have something positive to say regarding how to treat outsiders, in practice those aspects of doctrine are not followed because, in practice, people, unfortunately, develop a clan based mindset that leads to cruelty towards outsiders.

You're right though, I shouldn't have even make the point le alone harp on it because everyone with a basic education should have recognized these things long ago. However, they apparently have not since we have s many people, including some here, seeking to advance the clan mentality.

To mind it's like veryone agreeing that if you play with fire you'll get burnt and then going on to discuss how best to construct flaming hoops, the best technique for diving through them, etc. It makes you wonder if they really do understand the part about getting burnt.

Really, my point wasn't even so much about clan identification leading to destruction. It's was more about the fit and value of ancient clan religions in a rapidly chnaging world where clan barriers are disolving at an increasing rate.

If "What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow" is the whole of the Torah, then we have a functioning philosophy for the new era. Why then go obscure that behind all of the ancient symbols; symbols? Apparently there is not a reason that is satisfactory to many with jewish heritage because, as the practicing notes (and bemoans) people are falling away from the practice of the religion. His answer seems to be to increase the force of the ancient rituals.

My real questions in all of this is why he thinks that would work if the rituals are not in tune with our modern world and why is a clan approach a good thing when 1. clan identification is historically destructive and 2. It is becoming less relevant in our increasingly interwoven humanity.

BTW, I am not just applying this thinking to Judaism.

Even when you are attempting to be an “authentic individual” you are acting like a typical white kid raised in an American consumer society. (...)

I have no idea what the quest for authenticity has to do with being white or male or whatever. A young person challenging or breaking away from tradition to go out into the world and find their own way - that's one of the oldest tropes in literature and art because it's a universal dynamic across most cultures. Challenging traditional values in the quest for more universal truths is also what has driven much of philosophy through the ages: Sapere aude!

Christianity certainly adapted to changing norms over time, though quite slowly, in my opinion. Isn't it possible that Islam, under similar conditions, would have evolved similarly?

Posted by: byomtov | October 01, 2012 at 11:15 AM


I’m very sympathetic to this view. If Christianity had inherent universal rights embedded within it, the persistent “Jewish Question” would have been unnecessary.


Christianity didn't; it was more readily adaptable to other cultures, because the social details in its scriptures were less specific. As a result, it took on more of the flavour of the cultures which adopted it: Peter Brown speaks of the early medieval period as one of micro-Christianities, each believing and practising separately.

The disadvantage of this was that Christianity took on a lot of the nastier habits of some of the societies it entered. Racism was justified via "the curse of Ham", etc. But this lack of definition of social structures also meant that there was more leeway for Christian reformers to argue for changes to social practice than for Jewish or Muslim ones. The Old Testament, the New Testament and the Koran all accept slavery, but the New Testament allows more wiggle-room for change via the "neither slave nor free".

Posted by: magistra | October 01, 2012 at 03:15 AM


Right! Christianity just does not have within it, what most people think it does. One could justify Medieval Hierarchies as well as, anarchist congregations. In many cases, how one interprets the Scriptures, probably says more about the person’s subjective position.


I don’t think it’s meant to be a pluralistic religion, or a religion that is supposed to speak on every aspect of life. I think it can support Communism, Capitalism, totalitarianism, social democracy, etc. Paul is writing to and about a church attempting to exist in the shadow of Imperial Pagan Rome, not a political organization reorganizing the New World Order.

I would prefer it if folks tried not to use it to justify every new political theory or public policy, but …I ain’t the President of the world.

I have no idea what the quest for authenticity has to do with being white or male or whatever. A young person challenging or breaking away from tradition to go out into the world and find their own way - that's one of the oldest tropes in literature and art because it's a universal dynamic across most cultures. Challenging traditional values in the quest for more universal truths is also what has driven much of philosophy through the ages: Sapere aude!

Posted by: novakant | October 01, 2012 at 04:17 PM


No doubt, I just didn’t spend time with the nuances and caveats of the comment. Let me put it this way, when I was younger, and decided I wanted nothing to do with the religion of my parents and grand-parents and I wanted nothing to do with “White America” I began to experiment with “radical” ideas. Since I grew up in a hardcore working-class neighborhood, I had to experiment with Marxist-Leninism (sell outs became Republican, rebels were Leftist, you know the narrative), and started reading Nietzsche to rid myself of the stench of the divine. And I wanted to bring down White Supremacy in America. It wasn’t that I was not sincere, but I had no context to understand the position I was in. As much as I decried the small minded nature of religious fundamentalism, I engaged in particular Leftist fundamentalism. As much as I decried the ethnocentric nature of the racist West, most of my intellectual heroes were totally white Westerners. I accused everyone else of engaging in blind clannish/tribal behavior, while assuming my stands were the reflection of deep rational thought tapping into the objective truths of a Godless universe. My radical authentic individuality was contingent on Western symbols and myths as they were filtered in America’s Los Angeles. No, I wasn’t part of the typical mainstream, but I wasn’t the pioneering rebel, either.

At some point I had to engage with folks, without dismissing them with labels that can be leveled at me. Not so I avoid being called a hypocrite, but because I need to develop relationships wherein we respect each other. /testimonial end.

I can’t help and think of someone like Baruch Spinoza, who was excommunicated from the Jewish community in Amsterdam. It’s not like Christian society decided he was no longer Jewish.

I can’t help and think of someone like Baruch Spinoza, who was excommunicated from the Jewish community in Amsterdam. It’s not like Christian society decided he was no longer Jewish.
Posted by: someotherdude | October 01, 2012 at 05:39 PM

Ignore that, I started a thought I could not finish.

What's really funny about epiphanies is that that the one to whom "so much" is revealed rarely can persuade anyone else of just how profound and awesome his/her new insights are. And, in nearly every instance, there is very good reason why this is so.

someotherdude, I was never talking about looking to the outside or to leaders. I was talking about looking to the inside, to one's own heart and following one's own path.

It is interesting that elements of the Jewish diaspora found equality and a lack of persecution in India amongst the Hindus (contra fuzzy face' cheerleading for montheistic western society).

We also have that same practicing Jew stating that he finds Islam to be inferior...

I think you need to provide a quote for this. My understanding was that the way the religion develops its rules and organizational structure can have some effect on what kind of outcomes it produces, which means it may be enlightened in one context (like the 8th century) but it may not be able to change with the times.

someotherdude:

I often finish thoughts I couldn't be bothered to start.

MckT:

Best not to verbalize one's epiphanies with an initial "Eureka!"

Just quietly state them and slink away.

I experienced an epiphany the other day that all of our epiphanies should occur early in life, say, during puberty and in a bunch, thus leaving plenty of time to profit by them.

Plus, when the mother of the 11-year-old boy hears the cry of "Eureka!" from the locked bathroom, the boy can answer her question "What's taking so long in there?" by claiming he'd just had a series of epiphanies.

My favorite epiphany in recorded history, aside from James Joyce, religion, and the benzene ring, was when the entertainer Danny Kaye very late in life drove himself to the hospital for what would be his final illness and parked his car in the expensive close-in hospital lot.

Many weeks later, after being diagnosed, admitted, and now dying, Kaye, whimsically pop-eyed and orange hair erumpent, one imagines, abruptly sat up in his death bed, interrupting a visiting friend in some desultory mid-sentence, and shouted "MY CAR!!!"

He fished his car keys from the drawer in the bed-side table and impatiently sent his friend to recover the vehicle and pay the sizable parking fee, not covered by Medicare.

My best friend years ago was sitting in what appeared to be a very large restaurant with tables extending far into the distance and spotted an attractive woman/girl sitting across the room to his left.

He decided to get up and walk past her table, perchance to flirt. He stood, pushed in his chair, adjusted an imaginary cravat, like David Niven, turned to his left and took about five steps and collided face first with the floor-to ceiling mirror (wondering absentmindedly, eye on the girl, why that good-looking guy walking toward him wasn't yielding) that covered every square inch of the restaurant's opposite walls.

Then, like Danny Kaye, he could think only of the location of his car ... and died.

Not so much an epiphany, but a thought I neither started nor finished.

Plus, when the mother of the 11-year-old boy hears the cry of "Eureka!" from the locked bathroom, the boy can answer her question "What's taking so long in there?" by claiming he'd just had a series of epiphani

For some bizarre reason, this reminded me of a woman I heard about who walked into the bathroom as her young son was working on an epiphany, and, not taking time for thought, she blurted, "Johnny Thullen! What are you doing?!?!?", to which little Johnny calmly replied "Nothing, Mom. I fell off my bike yesterday and it's been this way ever since."

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